How Can Entrepreneurship Empower Poor Women?

Apr 8, 2015 by Dana James Comments (2)

Vital Voices Global Partnership and American University Program on Gender Analysis in Economics (PGAE) will host a panel discussion on "How Can Entrepreneurship Empower Poor Women?"  Panelists Caren Grown, Senior Director, Gender, World Bank, Ritu Sharma, author of Teach a Woman to Fish and Principal, Sharma Solutions, and Marguerite Berger, Vice President for Impact Evaluation and Research, Vital Voices Global Partnership, hope to bring different perspectives on this topic and create a lively discussion.  Please join these three women along with moderator, John Willoughby, Professor, Department of Economics, American University, for this discussion. Light fare will be provided.

Event information:

Wednesday, April 15th  | 12:00PM- 2:00PM

Vital Voices Global Partnership
1625 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC

Space is limited, so please RSVP by April 13.

Filed Under: Human capital


Mentoring for Women Entrepreneurs 2015

Apr 6, 2015 by Dana James Comments (1)

The MIF’s Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEEmpower) Initiative and NEXSO want to identify the most innovative solutions from mentoring programs that are supporting women entrepreneurs with a proven methodology and positive impact. We are searching for the most successful and promising mentoring programs that can be replicated in Latin America and the Caribbean.

The winner will receive financial support to replicate its mentoring program within a MIF-financed project and participate in an upcoming MIF event for entrepreneurs. The second-place winner will also be able to participate in the same event.


What Silicon Valley Thinks of Women

Feb 12, 2015 by joy.chen Comments (1)

Article by Nina Burleigh. Cross-posted from Newsweek.

On a spring afternoon last year at an outdoor café in San Francisco, two denizens of the tech community sketched out their strategy for a startup. Like most 28-year-olds in Silicon Valley, they had smarts and dreams. One was a passionate, fast-talking New Yorker, the other a shy computer whiz from Syracuse, New York, and together they formed the classic hacker-hustler team behind many of the valley’s Next Big Things.

They had been emailing each other about the idea for months, with growing conviction of its awesome potential. It addressed a well-known problem, one that afflicts the tech industry but also banking, media, advertising and film. Corporations needed it. Individuals would love it. It might even be disruptive, as they say. That afternoon, over lunch in the California sun, they committed to an ambitious business plan. That summer, they would keep their day jobs at media and advertising companies, but devote many off-hours and weekends to the startup. The savvy talker, who had worked in communications at Citigroup and Thomson Reuters, joined professional clubs, sought out older advisers, arranged meetings and worked at creating buzz that just might pique investors.

The programmer toiled at the computer, coaxing an algorithm, often alone.

Four months later, the hustler won the project’s first investor, a woman who works at one the world’s biggest hedge funds. It was a small sum, but the entrepreneurs quit their jobs the next day, setting up camp in a donated corner of another startup’s loft office above San Francisco’s Union Square. The new digs mercifully provided free food.

In the ensuing months, the pair eschewed new clothes, walked instead of Ubered and assembled a small, mostly unpaid staff. They found pro bono lawyers with startup expertise, signed contracts, designed and revised their PowerPoint pitch a dozen times and met with more than 50 potential investors. The programmer tested the algorithm. They had 1,500 clients wait-listed for a beta launch. They attracted interest at five large technology companies, including Twitter. They told investors their project was the next Pinterest—the way screenwriters tell movie moguls their scripts are the next Titanic.

Nine months after that day at the café, they launched their startup last month.

In a community like Silicon Valley, where six- and seven-figure investments are routinely tossed at ideas that sometimes succeed but more often flash-bang and fizzle out like meteors, they were getting only paltry sums—about $400,000 shy of the $525,000 they were hoping for in “pre-seed,” early investment money.

There is, though, one thing these two founders are missing, and it is almost the sine qua non of the fabled Silicon Valley startup. They don’t have penises.

Gang-Bang Interviews

The legendary names of Silicon Valley are well known, and for the most part, the men behind the names look like this: geeky, in jeans and T-shirt, maybe with a hoodie, maybe shaving, maybe a college dropout, coding since early pubescence in the upper-middle-class parental basement. They walk into a venture capital firm on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park or in San Francisco's SoMa district, and they walk out with a million dollars. A few years later, if all goes well, an IPO makes a lot of people richer.

Computer programmer Lauren Mosenthal and her partner, Eileen Carey, came to California attracted by that kind of possibility. The only problem with their dream is that Silicon Valley has never produced a female Gates, Zuckerberg or Kalanick. There are a few high-profile female entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, but despite the very visible success of corporate titans Meg Whitman, Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer, who signed up with companies after they took off—their numbers are relatively minuscule.

Despite that discouraging fact, the two women spent their 20s deep inside the valley’s bro community—a culture that has been described as savagely misogynistic. In inverse ratio to the forward-looking technology the community produces, it is stunningly backward when it comes to gender relations. Google “Silicon Valley” and “frat boy culture” and you’ll find dozens of pages of articles and links to mainstream news articles, blogs, screeds, letters, videos and tweets about threats of violence, sexist jokes and casual misogyny, plus reports of gender-based hiring and firing, major-league sexual harassment lawsuits and a financing system that rewards young men and shortchanges women.

There was the young executive of a company valued at $250 million who got up in front of an audience at a conference billed as diverse and joked about “gang-bang interviews” and how he got his start by sending elusive CEOs whose attention he needed “bikini shots” from a “nudie calendar” he’d made of college women. It’s the sort of place where one of the valley’s “most-eligible bachelors,” Gurbaksh Chahal—an entrepreneur with companies valued at hundreds of millions of dollars—is shown on a home security video beating his girlfriend for half an hour. (He received no jail time, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received 25 hours of community service and three years’ probation.) It’s a community in which the porn-inspired, “drading” college tweets of Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snapchat, go public; where a CEO’s history of domestic violence has no repercussions but female executives get fired for tweeting about sexist jokes they overhear. It’s a place where companies routinely staff conference booths with scantily clad “code-babes” and where women are so routinely sexually harassed at conferences that codes of conduct have become de rigueur—and the subject of endless misogynistic jokes on Twitter.

It is still the kind of place where investors can tweak women who ask them for financing with barbs like “I don’t like the way women think. They haven’t mastered linear thinking.” This was how one investor turned down Kathryn Tucker’s pitch for RedRover, an app that helps parents find kid-friendly things to do, which has since launched in New York, San Francisco and Atlanta.

Three high-profile sexual harassment lawsuits have been filed against Tinder, the virtual town square of hookup culture, and two of the biggest venture capital firms—Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and CMEA Capital. The complaints include a senior CMEA partner harassing a series of executive assistants like a character in Mad Men, replete with sexual nicknames, trapping them in his office and frequently referring to porn and pubic hair. At Kleiner Perkins, former partner Ellen Pao says partners countenanced harassment and retaliation from a fellow partner, and excluded women from client dinner parties because they “kill the buzz.” At Tinder, a male co-founder (and ex-boyfriend) sent abusive texts and yanked co-founder Whitney Wolfe’s title because, she alleged, he told her having a woman on a board “makes the company seem like a joke.” Tinder and CMEA settled under confidential terms within months. That CMEA partner is no longer with the firm, and Tinder temporarily suspended the executive involved. The suit filed by Ellen Pao—who is now at Reddit—is headed to trial this spring. Kleiner Perkins has denied the allegations and stated that Pao “twisted facts and events in an attempt to create legal claims where none exist.”

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that a front line, if not the trench of the global gender war, is in Silicon Valley. In that sense, Silicon Valley culture echoes the Wolf of Wall Street culture in the ’80s and ’90s. But while Wall Street today seems tamer—thanks to lawsuits and diversity consultants in every corner—in Silicon Valley the misogyny continues unabated. A combination of that very traditional Wall Street wolf-ism among Northern California’s venture capital boys’ club and the socially stunted boy-men that the money men like to finance has created a particularly toxic atmosphere for women in Silicon Valley.

This matters for tens of thousands of reasons, but on the broadest level, since digital technology is our era’s Industrial Revolution, fortunes being made now and business models and corporate cultures forming today will be with us for a century to come—and women are for the most part sidelined. Zuckerberg, Gates, Thiel, Musk—these are our Carnegies and Morgans and Rockefellers, whose names will be on museum wings and university halls 100 years from now. And there’s not a female among them.

Venture capitalists often blame the dearth of women graduating in computing and math and engineering, but that is only part of it. As Jodi Kantor wrote in a New York Times article tracing the fates of the Stanford class of 1994, many women with such degrees simply bailed out, while their male counterparts went on to make fortunes as the Internet exploded.

A recent report on women entrepreneurs by the Kauffman Foundation identified the chief challenges to female entrepreneurship. Researchers interviewed 350 female entrepreneurs, and most cited “lack of available advisers” at the top of their list. Female professional attrition is only one reason for the scarcity of mentors for younger women. Another is that women who stay in the game beyond their late 30s may be less subject to sexual harassment than their younger counterparts, but they are sidelined by virulent ageism in the industry that especially—but not solely—afflicts women.

Younger women, setting out on careers in tech, are furious. One group wrote a scathing “Open Letter to Tech” last year complaining about regular “rape-y emails” and professional exclusion.

Shanley Kane is a young tech industry observer and founder of Model View Culture, an acid-penned, widely read website on which she routinely exposes and excoriates the white brogrammer establishment. In an interview with MIT Technology Review in December, she said venture capitalists talk about the need to get 10-year-old girls into science in order to bring up the numbers of women they will fund, but don’t fund the ones already in the industry. “We are not getting hired, and we are not getting promoted, and we are being systematically driven out of the industry,” she said.

Asked what women should do, Kane wasn’t encouraging: “I don’t have a lot of advice. There’s not a whole lot you can do to keep your career from being crushed by misogyny.”

Kicking Glass

Every successful startup pitch begins with a problem, followed by a solution and an estimation of how many people will pay for it. Carey and Mosenthal are well versed in the problems women in tech face, and that’s how they came up with the idea for their startup, which they called Glassbreakers.

Glassbreakers is a peer-mentoring platform for companies that want to retain and promote women, and it’s also for individuals because it matches women in the same profession with other women at relatively similar levels so they can share tips, contacts and skills. Based on a “software as a service” business model, it relies on an algorithm Mosenthal continues to refine to produce a product that’s a bit like a dating site, matching people by location, career goals, background and needed skills. “Glassbreakers is a $100 million-a-year opportunity for investors, given how many organizations lack the resources to build mentorship programs but are seeking a solution,” Carey says.

But there is “added value,” as she puts it in her pitch to investors: community-building for working women. “A more connected female workforce is a stronger one,” she says.

That’s an added value close to Carey’s heart. She hails from a family of East Coast feminists, and her aunt, Noreen Connell, was a member of the New York Radical Feminists, a National Organization for Women leader and Bella Abzug comrade-in-arms who co-wrote a 1974 sourcebook for rape victims. Carey is named after her mother: “I’m Eileen Junior.” She admits she has only rarely experienced sexual harassment or even sexist behavior. “Women our age expect feminism,” she says, sitting in a sunny, donated corner room in the loft offices of Prism Skylabs, a retail analytics company. “We expect to be treated equally. That shit would never fly around me.”


But she knows bias and harassment are endemic in her profession. When she hears such stories, she encourages the women to report the men, but she understands why they don’t. She has no such qualms herself. “I have seen people sexually harass people, and I have reported it to HR or their bosses,” she says.

Glassbreakers’s peer-mentorship model is different from the traditional mentorship model, Carey says. It aims to mitigate the effect of female professional attrition on younger generations of women coming up. “Traditional mentorship, established in male-dominated industry, is between very senior and very junior people. But the problem for women in the workforce is that there are many more mentees than mentors. Also, the tech industry is changing so fast that women even five or 10 years older may have very little of practical use to share with younger workers.”

Around 1,500 women signed up for last month’s launch, which was confined to the Bay Area. Customers who sign up provide information about their skills and professional goals, and thanks to Mosenthal’s algorithm, they will find three names in their inbox and the user decides whether to make the connection. The two plan to eventually tailor Glassbreakers platforms for women in other industries.

After their first investment, the women raised $100,000, including their combined personal life savings of $15,000 each. Carey says she met with around 50 potential investors, and if the launch goes well, and she can show both significant interest and that the product works without glitches, this month she will be heading out on her first “seed round”—startup lingo for pitch meetings with venture capitalists aimed at raising enough money—she wants $1.5 million—to keep going for 18 months.

The road to launch wasn’t easy. Investors did not pony up the pre-seed financing goal. The company made it to the interview stage of the coveted Y-Combinator tech incubator but no further. Carey says those setbacks were balanced out by promising signs, including the ardent support of older influential women, like the woman who ponied up their first investment.

She also picked up some male investment interest, including funding from Ben Parr, founder of the DominateFund and formerly of Mashable, who invested $20,000 in Glassbreakers just before the launch. "I’ve been talking to women about this problem for years,” Parr says. “A lot of men would write this off. If they build the community, the possibilities and opportunities are enormous—especially for Glassbreakers within workplaces.

Asking for It

“We are confident women!” It’s a mantra Carey repeats, half-earnestly, half-smiling, as she prepares for a pitch meeting. CEO Carey does those alone; Chief Technology Officer Mosenthal will come only when and if the investors want to talk technology. Carey says that having two of them in the room when she’s asking for money “breaks the energy.”

But asking for money didn’t come naturally—and that’s part of the problem for women in tech. It’s not all sexism but also a culture in which women don’t easily brag or bring the same swagger to fund-raising pitches that the boys do. She and Mosenthal bootstrapped (startup talk for self-financing) for months. Even after she had her rap down for the pitch, she had to be coaxed across the line. In August, she met at a Starbucks with a woman affiliated with a major hedge fund. Over the course of an hour, Carey explained the Glassbreakers platform. The woman, who invested her own money and prefers to remain anonymous (she doesn’t want her company involved), clearly “got” the problem. At some point in their conversation, the woman gently advised Carey that it was important to come out and ask for money.

“At the end of the meeting, she asked straight out, ‘Are you going to ask me to invest in your company?’” Carey says. “And I said yes.”

That investor ponied up less than $10,000 but says she likes Glassbreakers as a business prospect because of various corporate initiatives, such as Intel's recently announced $300 million, five-year commitment to women's leadership and diversity. “That’s a trend that will be very favorable for a technology like Glassbreakers,” the investor says.

The effect of that investment on Carey and Mosenthal was exponentially greater than the relatively small dollar figure. “Next day,” Carey says, “we quit our jobs.”

Carey’s unease about asking for money doesn’t surprise Vivek Wadhwa, a Silicon Valley investor, diversity coach and author of Innovating Women. Wadhwa says shaky self-confidence is one of the chief things holding women back. It’s not just about the money, though. Wadhwa says women not only are reluctant to overstate their accomplishments and goals; they habitually understate them. “Often I have to say to them, Why are you underselling?” he says. “When I coach women, I tell them how wonderful they are. Women won’t make the ridiculous projections about their companies that the guys will. They won’t say the really stupid thing the nerds do. They are a lot more realistic and practical and humble.”

Stanford engineering graduate student Serena Yeung, second from left, meets up with other male engineering students Arturo Escaip, left, Subodh Iyengar, right, and Rathul Sheth, second from right, on the Stanford University campus in Stanford, Calif., May 30, 2012. Paul Sakuma/AP


No amount of confidence changes the fact that the valley’s big venture capitalists are almost entirely male. The top five don’t have any female senior partners, and VC partners are 96 percent male. Twenty years ago, the partners were 97 percent male.

A new generation of millennials starting their firms have hardly changed the system. Some of the wealthiest men in the New Billionaires club are Peter Thiel (who financed Zuckerberg) and David Sacks—two guys who spent their formative years at Stanford in the 1990s writing anti-feminist screeds for their school paper. According to Kantor in The New York Times, “In the pages of [Stanford’s] The Review, they defined feminism in negative terms—alarmist, accusatory toward men, blind to inherent biological differences. Feminists ‘see phallocentrism in everything longer than it is wide,’ Mr. Sacks wrote. ‘If you’re male and heterosexual at Stanford, you have sex and then you get screwed.’”

Speaking to the Times, Sacks regretted his collegiate anti-gay screeds, but didn’t seem too concerned about the juvenilia directed at women, nor the status of his female co-eds, the majority of whom dropped out of the business.

VCs are not funding women. According to a study by Babson College, only 2.7 percent of the 6,517 companies that received venture funding from 2011 to 2013 had women CEOs. Meanwhile, the Kauffman report found that female-run startups produce a 31 percent higher return on investment than startups run by men.

One problem with the male-dominated system is that top partners have almost never been exposed to women as professional peers. Their interaction with women is limited to their wives and daughters, and maybe executive assistants.

Male VCs who don’t have female professional peers are especially difficult to pitch on products that serve a female market. “Dozens of times, women have come and told me, I pitched to a firm and what do I hear over and over, ‘Oh, I will go home and ask my wife about it,’” says Trish Costello, an entrepreneur and founder of Portfolia, a venture capital investment platform designed for women. She is also CEO emeritus and co-founder of the Palo Alto–based Kauffman Fellows, a global training institute for venture capitalists.

A prominent venture capital investor from one of California’s top firms, who asked not to be identified because he didn’t want his firm “singled out,” called the absence of female partners “embarrassing” but said it’s directly related to the smaller percentages of women graduating from the engineering schools. “There is no question that diversity of opinion adds to the acumen of the group,” he said. “One of the most passionate business reasons we have to expand the investment to include a handful of women is that they are often not represented in the partnership dynamic around the table on Monday when we are discussing investment ideas.”

But the investor insisted that potential, not gender, was the key to which ideas, of the 10,000 that get pitched to his firm annually, end up being among the 12 that get financed. He added that of those pitches, 20 percent come from female entrepreneurs—which he said tracks with the percentage of women in engineering programs. The investor sits on the boards of two women-run firms that his company financed, and both female CEOs find the focus on their gender “patronizing.”

This is such a touchy subject for the all-male partnerships that few investors want to discuss it—on the record or not. A spokeswoman at Andreessen Horowitz declined to comment, and Peter Thiel’s firm, the Founders Fund, did not respond to messages.

To be fair, there are many reasons Glassbreakers might not appeal to a Founders Fund or Andreessen Horowitz, or any of the dozens of other all-male VC partnerships on Sand Hill Road in Menlo Park, reasons that have nothing to do with sexist bias. It’s not likely to be a Facebook, or even a Houzz, the home-remodeling site launched by an Israeli husband and wife, financed by Sequoia and now valued at $2.3 billion. Glassbreakers is by definition “gender-gated,” thereby excluding 50 percent of potential users. It also presumes that many women do feel the need for female mentorship, when in fact there is quite possibly a significant cohort of working women who think they are getting along just fine without another woman’s advice.

That said, if the Glassbreakers launch shows a market for the product, it will almost certainly have a longer life than Red Swoosh, a now-forgotten Travis Kalanick file-sharing enterprise that venture capitalists threw millions at, and which, when it sold for $19 million, enabled the young founder to buy a San Francisco mansion and Uber.

Should the Glassbreakers team fail in the next 18 months, odds are much worse for them than for men that they will not get more funding. Wadhwa often talks about the importance of “pattern recognition” among VCs. The male bankers simply have an idea of what a successful startup founder looks like, and young women like Carey and Mosenthal simply don’t fit.

“Women don’t look like winners. So they can’t fail, while boys in the club can,” Wadhwa says.

To avoid this, Carey has vetted the venture capitalist firms she will approach, seeking those that have funded other female startups, and making sure that they have some women in senior, decision-making roles. “Of the VCs we have had the highest engagement with, three are women-led firms,” Carey says.

The financing gap between male and female entrepreneurs is massive. VCs typically fund women at the lowest levels—$100,000. The Kauffman study found the majority (nearly 80 percent) of female entrepreneurs didn’t get venture capital but used personal savings as their top funding source. Carey found a network of women, some of whom are or have been venture capitalists or who have started companies. Among their bits of wisdom was one that is antithetical to the swaggering male startup CEO who is sure he’s going to be the Next Zuck. “Talking to these women, we learned you have to ask,” Carey says. “Don’t pretend you know something. If you are honest about what you don’t know, people are more responsive.”

But the advice that bothers her most, Carey says, has to do with how to deal with her own gender. “We are very fortunate and haven’t faced discrimination in our lives,” Carey said of herself and Mosenthal. “I’ve never been told I would not be able to do something or that it would be harder to do because I was a woman. So it’s been strange going through this experience and being told that because we are women it will be harder for us to fund-raise. The hardest part has been hearing that and digesting it and accepting that our gender would be a barrier for entry. I never thought it would be this real.”

Sheryl Sandberg visits the Facebook France offices, April 14, 2014. Elodie Gregoire/REA/Redux

“This Really Happened”

Heading out on her first financing round, Carey is well aware of the worst things that can happen to a young woman seeking money for a startup. The stories are rampant—in fact, every woman entrepreneur who’s been around Silicon Valley has one. For brevity’s sake, we present one from entrepreneur and venture capitalist Heidi Roizen.

Early in her career, Roizen was working “on a company-defining deal”—involving, potentially, millions of dollars—with a major PC manufacturer. “The PC manufacturer’s senior vice president who had been instrumental in crafting the deal suggested he and I sign over dinner in San Francisco to celebrate,” Roizen has written. “When I arrived at the restaurant, I found it a bit awkward to be seated at a table for four yet to be in two seats right next to each other, but it was a French restaurant and that seemed to be the style, so down I sat. Wine was brought and toasts were made to our great future together. About halfway through the dinner, he told me he had also brought me a present, but it was under the table, and would I please give him my hand so he could give it to me. I gave him my hand, and he placed it in his unzipped pants.

“Yes,” she said. “This really happened.”

Every Silicon Valley entrepreneur who spoke with Newsweek has a story somewhat like this—varying only in degree of brazenness. One young woman had worked for a year on a startup with an older male financial mentor. When she was ready to head out for a round of funding, he took her to dinner—a meeting at which she expected to be introduced to VCs or told which ones he’d arranged for her to meet with. Instead, over wine, he confessed that he was having a midlife crisis and that he was in love with her. No finances would be forthcoming.

Roizen stayed in the business and is now one of the industry’s legendary female entrepreneurs. Wadhwa says women must approach male VCs with caution and awareness: “Women don’t get it. The young women don’t seem to understand the reason why they get their calls returned so easily and get small amounts of funding is they are dealing with hungry men. These are disgusting perverts. Some of them used to be my friends—sexist jerks. And I know how they speak behind the scenes.”

To head this off, Carey recently dyed her blond hair mousy brown and dresses down, not up. Now she meets with investors only after researching them or getting references from other women. “We are vetting them left, right and center. We don’t take meetings over drinks. I do know a guy who raised a million dollars and got blackout drunk every night with the VC. That’s not how we work.”

Carey says the slightest sexist overtures dent her confidence. “When an investor kisses me on the cheek on the way out, I feel like shit for weeks afterward.”

Google employees eat lunch in a cafeteria adorned by artwork created by Google employees, in Mountain View, Calif. Jan. 6, 2006. Eros Hoagland/Redux

Viagra but No Abortions

The Glassbreakers women are launching a product for women, designed to solve a problem women understand better than men, in an economic sector that has traditionally produced products shaped by the minds of young men for young men. It’s inarguable that white, upper-middle-class young men have applied the new technologies to make things that reflect their desires and culture and foisted them on the world. Women who complain about sexist video games get death threats from legions of boyfans conditioned by formative years on the Xbox controller to believe it’s their right to rescue—or maybe assault—wasp-waisted half-naked damsels in distress. And the anonymity of the Internet has proved relatively more menacing to women.

None of these ill effects are deliberate, but they are built into designs and products created almost solely by one gender. As recently as 2011, for example, Apple made a Siri who could find prostitutes and Viagra but not abortion providers.

Reviewing the movie The Social Network, the writer Zadie Smith wrote that everything about Facebook is “reduced to the size of its founder. Poking, because that’s what shy boys do to girls they are scared to talk to.” Ultimately, she wrote, The Social Network wasn’t “a cruel portrait of any particular real-world person called ‘Mark Zuckerberg.’ It’s a cruel portrait of us: 500 million sentient people entrapped in the recent careless thoughts of a Harvard sophomore.”

Frustrated, women in Silicon Valley seem to be segregating themselves in women-only venture funds or starting gender-gated funds.

Costello says that the sexual harassment lawsuits and the public talk about endless ugly events is a sign that things are changing. “We are in a major time of shift. There is no other time when women have been better educated, earning a majority of undergraduate and graduate degrees and serving in equal numbers in nearly all professions. The control of personal wealth is about equal, as baby boomer men are dying earlier and women are inheriting money from their parents and husbands and have their own assets from working. If we can access 2 percent of that money controlled by women, we don’t need to be begging on Sand Hill Road.”


Application for the 2015 TechWomen program is now open!

Jan 8, 2015 by joy.chen Comments (0)

TechWomen empowers, connects, and supports the next generation of women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) from Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East by providing them the access and opportunity needed to advance their careers, pursue their dreams, and inspire women and girls in their communities.

Through mentorship and exchange, TechWomen strengthens participants’ professional capacity, increases mutual understanding between key networks of professionals, and expands girls’ interest in STEM careers by exposing them to female role models.

Selection Process

TechWomen participants are selected based on the eligibility requirements below. Applications are reviewed by independent selection committees composed of industry leaders and regional experts. Semifinalists may be interviewed by United States Embassy personnel in their country of permanent residence.

2015 TechWomen Eligibility Requirements

Applicants must

  • Be women with, at minimum, two years full-time professional experience in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math)
  • Have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree/four year university degree or equivalent
  • Be proficient in written and spoken English
  • Be citizens and permanent residents of Algeria, Cameroon, Egypt, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya,  Morocco, Nigeria, the Palestinian Territories, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Yemen, or Zimbabwe at the time of application, and while participating in the program
  • Be eligible to obtain a U.S. J-1 exchange visitor visa
  • Not have applied for an immigrant visa to the United States, or participated in a visa lottery in the past five years
  • Not hold U.S. Citizenship or be a U.S. legal permanent resident

Preference will be given to applicants who

  • Demonstrate themselves as emerging leaders in their chosen professional track through their work experience, volunteer experience, community activities, and education
  • Are committed to return to their home countries to share what they have learned and mentor women and girls
  • Have limited or no prior experience in the United States
  • Have a proven record of voluntary or public service in their communities
  • Have a demonstrated track record of entrepreneurialism and commitment to innovation
  • Demonstrate a willingness to participate in exchange programs, welcome opportunities for mentoring and new partnership development, and exhibit confidence and maturity

TechWomen encourages people with diverse backgrounds and skills to apply, including individuals with disabilities.

Women committed to addressing concerns of global climate change and environmental issues are particularly encouraged to apply.

Selection Timeline

Semifinalists will be contacted via email for in-country interviews in April and May 2015. Final decisions will be made in May 2015. All applicants will be notified of the results of their application.

Recommendation Letters (Semifinalists Only)

Semifinalists who are invited to interview at the U.S. Embassy will be required to provide two letters of recommendation. Applicants are encouraged to identify their recommenders ahead of time in order to be prepared in the event that they are selected as semifinalists. Letters must

  • Be from an academic or professional reference, such as a former professor or employer/supervisor (At least one of the two letters must be from a professional reference such as a former or current employer/supervisor.)
  • Be on company/organization letterhead
  • Be signed by the recommender

Recommendation letters will be accepted from SEMIFINALISTS ONLY. Instructions for submission will be sent to semifinalists upon notification.

Apply now >


Women’s landownership: Why we need to set the record straight

Sep 29, 2014 by Dana James Comments (0)

This article by Cheryl Doss and Caitlin Kieran is cross-posted from the CGIAR blog.

Tribal women observing land demarcation in Odisha, India

Tribal women observe land demarcation in Odisha, India.

Advocacy and development organizations often cite claims that “women own less than 1 percent of world property.” The Atlantic, tracing the claim back to a 1978 journal published by the International Labour Organization, referred to it as “the feminist myth that won’t die.” The intent of this claim is to promote women’s property rights by highlighting alarming inequalities. But perpetuating such myths actually hinders efforts to increase gender equality in control over land and other property.

So what is the correct statistic? In a recent study, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions, and Markets (PIM) asked whether an empirically based statistic on women’s landownership in Africa could be produced. While they come up with measures for several countries, the data to create a global or African measure are lacking.

This is because most large-scale data collection efforts on landownership simply ask if each household owns land. They have not typically gathered information on who in the household owns the land or how much land area is owned, rendering it impossible to develop statistics about women’s landownership.

Claims about women’s landownership also raise a number of conceptual and methodological issues. First, ownership has different meanings in different contexts, from the name on a title deed to the person who controls family land. Second, the unit of analysis matters. Do we care about the percentage of women who own land? The percentage of landholders who are women? Or the percentage of land area owned by women? These measures are very different.

Comparable statistics are also needed for men. The Gender Asset Gap Project finding that 7 percent of women in Ecuador own land takes on a very different interpretation when we know that only 7 percent of men own land. We might also ask how much land is owned jointly by couples or by clans, tribes, institutions, or governments.

The available data lend credence to the existence of widespread gender inequalities in the ownership and control of land. But there is insufficient evidence to develop a single statistic on women’s landownership on a global or even regional scale. Attempting to do so also masks substantial variations across regions and within countries. For example, the FAO’s Gender and Land Rights Database reports that the percentage of agricultural holders who are women varies from a low of 3.1 in Mali to a high of 50.5 in Cape Verde. According to the study on women’s landownership in Africa, only 20 African countries have any nationally representative or large sample survey data on women’s landownership or management. Recent analysis suggests that even fewer Asian countries collect such data.

Mounting evidence demonstrates that securing women’s property rights contributes to decreased poverty and vulnerability, increased environmental sustainability, and investments in the next generation. Without understanding the extent of gender inequalities in land rights, policymakers cannot articulate or monitor a policy response. Several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the United Nations Open Working Group (OWG) focus on achieving secure and equal rights and access to land for men and women. But how will we know whether we have reached these goals by 2030 if we do not know how many men and women currently have land rights?

The OWG acknowledges the importance of increasing the availability of data disaggregated by sex, age, income, and other characteristics to monitor the implementation of the SDGs. But we often hear arguments that collecting sex-disaggregated data is simply too expensive. While gathering data for a full gender analysis may be costly, it is possible to generate a wealth of information by making minor alterations to existing surveys.

As we point out in a document on standards for collecting sex-disaggregated data, changing a question from “Does your household own land?” to “Who in the household owns land?” will vastly enhance our understanding of gender inequalities in landownership. Although this would not facilitate an in-depth understanding of the relationship between gender and land rights in a given context, it would increase the empirical evidence on this topic. Additional questions on who holds the legal rights through a title or registration document and whether the rights are secure add only modest costs and greatly enhance our knowledge of men’s and women’s tenure security.

While data collection issues often fail to take center stage in development debates, the availability of individual-level data on land rights will play an essential role in our ability to close the gender gap in agriculture. The existence of significant gender inequalities in land rights is irrefutable. But without better data on the patterns of landownership by men and women, it will be impossible to develop or monitor evidence-based policies and programs to redress these disparities.

This blogpost was originally posted on the CGIAR blog by Cheryl Doss (, Senior Lecturer in African Studies and Economics at Yale University and Leader of cross-cutting gender research, CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets – PIM, and Caitlin Kieran (, Senior Research Assistant on Gender   PIM.

Photo courtesy Landesa

Hidden Roadblocks: Structural Barriers that Limit Women's Financial Inclusion

Sep 25, 2014 by Dana James Comments (0)

This article by Garam Dexter is cross-posted from The World Bank's Private Sector Development (Financial Inclusion) News.

"Financial inclusion." This phrase has been found in several recent reports. But what does “financial inclusion" truly mean? More important, what does it mean for women who constitute nearly half of the global population?

Financial inclusion is defined in the Global Financial Development Report as the “[proportion] of individuals and firms that use financial services.” It is one of the main catalysts of economic growth and helps to reduce poverty in the world. Access to financial services is one approach to greater financial inclusion. As all formal transactions are tied to accounts, ownership of accounts is an important aspect to measure the degree of financial inclusion. There are several crucial benefits to having a bank account, such as: facilitating the saving process; facilitating the receiving of government payments; and enabling entrepreneurship through the building of credit.

Access to financial services has been expanding steadily as many countries have been adopting national strategies to achieve financial inclusion. (Financial inclusion strategy is defined as “road maps of actions, agreed and defined at the national or subnational level, that stakeholders follow to achieve financial inclusion objectives.”) Yet large gaps and hurdles to access financial systems remain worldwide. (See percentage [of females] with bank accounts at formal financial institutions in 2011 based on the World Bank’s Financial Inclusion Data.)

These gaps and obstacles are especially arduous for women, for no reason other than their gender!  The Findex survey, for example, shows that women refrain from opening personal accounts because they rely on their relatives’ accounts. The Global Financial Development Report of 2014 links this matter to income inequality and the quality of economic institutions.

One of the most shocking barriers [for women to obtain financial inclusion] is the codified restrictions in the law. According to the 2014 Women, Business and the Law report, only two of 143 countries measured impose explicit and direct restrictions on women’s ability to open bank accounts: Niger and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

If the vast majority of economies do not impose direct restrictions on women’s ability to open bank accounts, why is there a large gender gap? The barrier to women’s ability to open bank accounts remains hidden in a second layer of laws, to include personal status laws [and] passport and national identification card regulations. There are nine countries among the 143 countries covered by WBL in which married women cannot obtain national IDs in the same way as married men do.  

Furthermore, in 19 economies among the economies covered by WBL, married women cannot obtain passports in the same way as men. These restrictions may not necessarily prohibit women from obtaining a national ID or a passport, but may require additional steps or more complicated procedures to obtain such a document. These additional steps needlessly require extra time and effort.  

Based on the Global Financial Development Report and the Women, Business and the Law Report, one can conclude that the problem could be related factors, such as cultural practices and income level.

However, restrictions in formal legal instruments remain as a great, unjustified obstacle to access to finance. Removing these restrictions from the laws is an important first step to support women’s access to finance and thus to reducing poverty worldwide.

Source: Garam Dexter for the World Bank Private Sector Development Blog

The business case for lending to women: women entrepreneurship Banking (weB)

Sep 22, 2014 by joy.chen Comments (0)

There is an $86 billion credit gap in Latin America and the Caribbean for women-led SMEs.

To help address this gap, in 2012 the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and the International Development Bank's (IDB) Structured and Corporate Finance Department (SCF) launched women entrepreneurshipBanking (weB), a regional initiative provides incentives for financial institutions in the region to launch innovative and inclusive lending models that support the growth of women’s businesses.

To date, weB has partnered with 11 financial institutions and will support access to credit for more than 100,000 women-led MSMEs by 2019.

See weB at work and meet some of the entrepreneurs and bankers participating in the initiative:

Click here to learn more about weB and the business case for lending to women.

WEEmpower: A look at the full spectrum of the MIF’s work in women’s economic empowerment and gender equality

Follow the 2014 ‘Scaling Women’s Wealth Creation’ #GBASummit organized by the Global Banking Alliance for Women and hosted by the MIF on Twitter

Filed Under: Access to finance

Investing in the Power of Women, Progress Report on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative

Sep 15, 2014 by Christa Sawko Comments (0)

A new report by Babson College on the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative has found that training and education for women entrepreneurs positively affect emerging economies by increasing revenues and creating jobs, expanding women’s contributions to their communities, and informing their leadership styles. 

Through mentoring, advising and hours of basic business skills training, the 10,000 Women graduates gained confidence, grew their businesses in sales and employees and are strengthening their communities by mentoring other women.

The findings in the Babson report, Investing in the Power of Women: Progress Report on the 10,000 Women Initiative, are based on an analysis of data that had been systematically gathered across cohorts and countries over the course of the initiative’s first four years. The analysis was conducted by a team of researchers from Babson College using data provided by the Goldman Sachs Foundation.

In 2008, the 10,000 Women initiative was launched by the Goldman Sachs Foundation to educate women entrepreneurs in emerging economies. The initiative was designed specifically to provide a business education, access to mentors and networks, and links to capital for 10,000 underserved women operating small businesses. By the close of 2013, the initiative had enrolled its 10,000th woman.

The findings of the report demonstrate that the 10,000 Women initiative makes a difference in how women entrepreneurs grow their businesses, how they develop personally and how they make a contribution to society. The key conclusions of the report are:

  • Women can be exceptional entrepreneurs across a diverse array of country and cultural contexts
  • 10,000 Women helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses and develop their business acumen
  • Mentoring, advising, and networks are highly valued in the growth process
  • Women entrepreneurs grow their businesses despite a lack of external financing


Senator Targets Gender Gap in Small Business Lending

Sep 5, 2014 by Christa Sawko Comments (0)

Reliable access to capital is a prerequisite for small business success. But while getting a small business loan can be challenging for any small business owner, it can be especially difficult for female entrepreneurs -- many who face an uphill battle when it comes to receiving small business financing from banks. 

Maria Cantwell Lending Fairness Inquiry

According to the Seattle Times, 30 percent of small businesses are owned by women. However, Senate reports show that last year, female entrepreneurs only received 4.4 percent of loan dollars, highlighting the gender gap that exists in the nation's small business financing system.

Recently, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, introduced legislation to level the playing field. Called the Women's Small Business Ownership Act, the bill seeks to make it easier for women-owned businesses to secure financing by tailoring lending products to the needs and challenges of female entrepreneurs.

"We see (lending) issues with minorities the same way we've seen them with women. We want to make sure they're getting access to the right help and support," Cantwell told the Associated Press.

Cantwell believes that women-owned companies face several unique challenges in today's lending market. Male lenders are sometimes hesitant to finance women-owned businesses because they may not fully understand their products. Additionally, women-owned businesses tend to be interested in microfinancing and intermediate financing (loans for $200,000 or less) -- loan products that fall outside of SBA or traditional financing structures.

Also, last year women-owned small businesses received just 4.3 percent of federal contracts. The deficit in federal contracts awarded to women-owned businesses is particularly troubling given that 20 years ago, Congress established a 5 percent federal contracting goal for women-owned businesses -- a benchmark that the federal government has never met.

Cantwell's legislation will seek to provide more opportunities for women-owned businesses to secure government contracts and improve female entrepreneurs' ability to take advantage of exporting opportunities, which Cantwell sees as the best avenue for economic growth and new job creation.


The Rise of Gender Capitalism

Sep 5, 2014 by Christa Sawko Comments (1)

This article was written by Sarah Kaplan, Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the Rotman School of Management, and Jackie VanderBrug, Senior Vice President and Investment Strategist at U.S. Trust. 

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Across a wide spectrum of society, there is growing recognition of the central role that women play in the world economy. Books such as President Jimmy Carter’s Call to Action and Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In advocate increased women’s empowerment. Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a strong case for the economic inclusion of women as a vital source of economic growth when she spoke at the first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation High-Level Policy Dialogue on Women and the Economy.1 And studies by corporations such as Goldman Sachs highlight the potential increases in GDP if women had equal access to employment and credit.2

From these ideas, as well as from work in women’s philanthropy and advocacy for women’s corporate leadership, a movement focusing on the nexus of gender and investment is emerging. This movement, which encourages the use of capital to deliver financial returns and improve the lives of women and girls and their communities, is known as “investing with a gender lens.”

What do we mean by “lens”? A lens allows us to see the world differently. Looking through a gender lens helps investors gain new perspectives, highlight poorly understood inequalities, uncover new opportunities, identify blockages in the system, and find value where none was found before.

Why gender and not women? Although it is focused on the impact of investing on women and girls, the movement uses the term gender to emphasize that making change means looking at the socially constructed roles, relationships, and expectations of women and men and the ways that these are reinforced by educational, political, economic, and cultural systems.3 Using gender brings both men and women into the conversation. The movement’s objective is to look at the entire financial and social system, not just at women.

To understand how a gender lens can change the way investment decisions are made, consider the example of Root Capital, a nonprofit agricultural lender focused on increasing rural prosperity in Latin America and Africa. Root Capital invests in businesses that are too big for microfinance but unable to get credit from banks—what the organization calls the “missing middle” of finance. They not only lend capital but also offer financial training to help farmers and agricultural businesses access markets.

Root Capital did not start with a gender focus, but in the course of its work, the organization learned about the challenges women face in accessing resources like credit, land, training, and agricultural inputs. A gender lens became a starting point for exploring new opportunities for action. Root Capital launched a Women in Agriculture Initiative based on the belief that gender-inclusive businesses—rated by a potential client’s percentage of women leaders, women managers, women employees, and women suppliers, as well as inclusive programs and culture—can create greater financial and social impact.

Through a gender analysis, Root Capital found that effective investment in agriculture requires attention to the whole social system, from enabling land ownership for women farmers to empowering middle managers (often women) who are the hidden influencers in small agricultural enterprises, to training entrepreneurs in financial management. A gender lens led Root Capital to identify businesses in traditionally male-dominated industries that have a high impact on women, such as a Nicaraguan collective of women coffee farmers that launched the “Las Hermanas” brand of coffee. It also led Root Capital to focus more on female-dominated but sometimes neglected industries such as shea butter. As a result, a gender lens has expanded, not limited, the range of products and services the lender offers and the types of clients it serves.

Digging Deeper into Gender

Although there is increasing discussion of the role of women in organizations and in the larger economy, the tenor of the conversation has been more about how women can learn to operate within the existing system than about how to overcome structural barriers. Sandberg’s Lean In, for example, has been criticized for not taking into account what happens when organizations push back. The breast cancer awareness campaigns that cobrand “pink” products have been criticized for benefiting marketers more than women with cancer. We are not saying that women should not lean in or that people should not buy pink products. We are now at the point, however, where we need to go beyond these individualistic concepts. We must engage trillions of dollars of investment capital to capture the gains that come from paying attention to the systemic problem of devaluing women.

Investing with a gender lens is about creating a new economic logic that bridges the market logic of financial returns with the feminist logic of women’s equality. Traditional investors often fear that a focus on women may make them too pink, and traditional advocates for women’s rights often fear that engaging with investors may mean they are selling out. Gender lens investing builds a bridge between these two worlds. It is not about investing in women as if they were commodities, nor abandoning feminism (with its roots in anti-capitalism). Rather, the movement promotes gender analysis as a way of reshaping the system to change what we value as we invest. Paying attention to gender is not just about having a social conscience, nor is it about adding to our list of environmental, social, and governance investment screens. Instead, gender capitalism is about applying a gender lens to highlight the ways that gender is material to financial outcomes and financial outcomes are material to gender.

There is, however, no universal approach to investing with a gender lens. There are important distinctions between resource rich and resource poor settings, between different regions and countries, between different economies, and between different investment products. The ideas and examples in this article are meant as starting points for a larger conversation about how seeing through a gender lens can improve the financial and social returns of investments.

We focus on three ways that a gender lens can serve this function. The first is gaining access to capital—getting women involved as investors and investees, from Silicon Valley to Bangladesh. The second is promoting workplace equity—using capital to value gender diversity in leadership and promote equal rights throughout company value chains, from top management to the shop floor. The third is creating products and services that affect the lives of women and girls, from clean cookstoves in Africa to pharmaceuticals that have been tested on women and adjusted for them. These three approaches are neither exhaustive nor exclusive. Instead, they are useful analytically in identifying opportunities and uncovering barriers to progress. As the Root Capital example shows, investors may use multiple lenses simultaneously.

Gaining Access to Capital

When we look through a gender lens, disparities between men and women’s ability to access capital become quickly apparent. Across all industries—from retailers, to filmmakers, to high-tech entrepreneurs—women have historically had trouble gaining access to investment capital, despite evidence that women-led companies may deliver higher and more consistent returns.4 In addition, there are few women in the business of investing money (in banks, venture capital firms, or hedge funds, for example), which compounds the problem, especially given the tendency for people to invest in and mentor people like themselves.

Women launching and expanding ventures around the world have an estimated collective credit gap of $320 billion (the difference between the capital they are seeking and the credit to which they have access),5 which creates a major opportunity for investors. Stereotyping, implicit bias, and constrained networks may leave strong women-led firms without adequate investors. For example, about 6 percent of US venture capital funding goes to women-led businesses. This is not just a supply problem, but also a function of an investment process that subtly discounts women. An important part of the process entrepreneurs must go through to obtain an investment from a venture capitalist is to “pitch” their idea in person. But women have been socialized to be less comfortable pitching, and we all have been socialized to perceive women less favorably in those contexts. Experimental studies show that investors are 60 percent more likely to invest in pitches delivered by men than by women, even when the content of the pitches is identical.6

Innovative investors are breaking these patterns. Consider Village Capital, an organization developing and funding innovative social enterprises. Finding that the traditional due diligence process was expensive and not terribly effective, Village Capital created a peer mentoring and peer selection approach that would, in their words, “democratize the entrepreneurial process.” They select cohorts of about 15 entrepreneurs in specific geographic areas and industries for a 12-week program based on peer mentoring. Village Capital commits to providing funding to the top two enterprises, which are selected on the basis of peer evaluations. The program was not specifically designed to enhance female entrepreneurs’ success, but Village Capital found that although only 15 percent of the participating companies had female co-founders, these companies represented 40 percent of the investment winners. Female co-founders have been 2.7 times more likely to get funding through this model, and the differential has increased as Village Capital has improved the structure and transparency of the programs.

“There are systematic, implicit biases that investors have in the traditional venture world that many don’t even recognize and that disproportionately favor men. When you are more structured, methodical, and transparent and your assumptions are things you have to back up, women-run ventures tend to be appropriately valued,” says Ross Baird, executive director of Village Capital.

The opportunities to rethink investment processes are not limited to incubators and accelerators. The 2013 launch by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of a “Women’s Bond” has created new legitimacy for focusing on women’s access to capital. About $175 million has already been committed by the IFC to banks such as Itaù, the largest bank in Brazil, for investments in women-owned businesses. With women starting ventures at unprecedented rates, we are likely to see more innovations like this.7 Women-focused crowdfunding platforms such as Portfolia, gender-aware venture capital firms such as Illuminate Ventures, regionally focused investment funds like Texas Women Ventures, and nonprofit intermediaries such as Agora all provide investors with access to compelling opportunities.

Despite the flurry of activity, vast scope remains for continued progress. A gender lens on access to capital challenges embedded beliefs about how the system for capital allocation works. Sharon Vosmek, CEO of Astia, an organization helping women participate fully in high-growth entrepreneurship, points out that the venture capital and high-tech world is so captured by the “myth of meritocracy” that it can barely start a conversation on gender and cannot see that its understanding of merit is gendered.8

Grasping how definitions of “merit” may embed criteria biased against women can open investors’ eyes to new opportunities. For instance, Illuminate Ventures deliberately recruits women advisors and investors, putting it into a different deal flow from other venture capital firms. The result: About half the companies in Illuminate’s portfolio have female co-founders, a share that is dramatically above the industry average of 6 percent.9 New opportunities also present themselves when investors expand the definition of what type of business constitutes a good investment. For example, women disproportionately start businesses that aim for steady profit rather than rapid growth or a quick and rich exit. Broadening one’s definition of an entrepreneur to include the woman filmmaker in Hollywood and the woman coffee farmer in Nicaragua (along with leaders of Silicon Valley high tech startups), also expands the set of investment opportunities.

Promoting Workplace Equity

A gender lens on workplace equity allows the investor to look across the entire corporate value chain and ask, “How are women’s leadership and equal rights valued?” The answers to that question can lead investors to new areas of opportunity. For example, research shows that the financial returns of companies with three or more women on their board are substantially higher than for companies that have no women on their board.10 But the power of a gender lens to illuminate risks and opportunities hardly stops at the boardroom door. Evidence shows that inclusive environments are associated with better organizational outcomes and that gender-diverse teams at all levels make better decisions.11

Investors are beginning to see financial opportunities in taking gender into consideration. The Women and Girls Equality Strategy (WGES) is an investment approach developed by U.S. Trust in collaboration with the Women’s Foundation of California. The foundation was eager to advance its mission—the economic security of women and girls—through its investments in addition to its grantmaking. Operating in a fiduciary environment where investments must comply with “prudent investor” laws that mandate judicious choices about the tradeoffs between risk and return, the foundation also needed to maintain market rate returns. “We wanted to align our investments with our values, and also to use a gender lens to identify smart investments in companies we’re proud to own,” says Judy Patrick, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California.

U.S. Trust (which employs one of us) leveraged its Socially Innovative Investing platform to create a strategy that looks holistically at how companies engage women—as consumers, employees, and agents of global change. One important metric that investors are beginning to use is the number of women on boards of directors. For example, Morgan Stanley’s Parity Portfolio uses this number as an investment screen. The WGES approach adds other metrics to analyze how gender equity plays out throughout the organization. WGES examines quantitative criteria to compare companies with sector peers on factors such as pay equity; recruiting, retaining, and promoting women; supply chain and subcontractor relationships; gender impact of goods and services; and portrayal of women in media. The strategy considers both policy and practice; for example, the existence of policies for inclusive hiring as well as the track record of payments for discrimination lawsuits.

Companies that score well in the analysis are also likely to have fewer environmental penalties, labor violations, and product safety recalls. In short, they are well-run companies. A gender lens, as it turns out, provides another important set of metrics for separating high-quality companies from the others. “We employ a disciplined process of portfolio construction that combines this social analysis with fundamental research and an optimization process,” says Jason Baron, managing director and portfolio manager at U.S. Trust. “It mitigates against any unintended bias and enables us to design for clients’ needs—and attribute any outperformance to selection of companies based on their gender analysis scores.” In 2013, WGES beat their S&P 1500 benchmark by 3.6 percentage points.12

The goals of gender-focused investment vehicles are both to generate returns and to use the power of these investments to help push companies toward gender equity. Several trends point to the increased value of using a gender lens to look across an entire value chain. Take education: As women are increasingly educated, investors must consider which firms will win the war for talent. Governments like that of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are seeing the economic benefit of women in the workforce and are establishing incentives for corporations that excel in gender diversity. Coca Cola has embarked on an ambitious campaign, called the 5x20 program (the goal is to empower 5 million women entrepreneurs across Coca Cola’s value chain by 2020), to leverage women’s participation throughout its business.13 The Calvert Foundation, a social investing intermediary, found that the process of launching the pioneering Women Investing in Women fund (a gender-focused investment vehicle) energized its staff and created new client relationships and opportunities.

Including gender equity in investment evaluation metrics drives transformative conversations about realities inside and outside organizations. To date, organizations have relied on important, but crude, measures such as counting the number of women at various levels of management. If counting continues to predominate, it risks provoking the backlash of tokenism. Using a gender lens on workplace equity broadens the questions to recognize other dynamics. For example, understanding the gendered context in which people operate—such as research demonstrating that women can be either likable or competent but not both, or that in some cases domestic violence can increase when women’s income increases—helps leaders innovate more effectively.

Various organizations are working to fill the data gap on both gender policies and outcomes. For example, EDGE, a certification process for corporations, looks at the trifecta of policies, outcomes, and employee self-reports. The latter provide an essential understanding of the gendered experience in organizations. That is, innovation will not increase simply by having meetings with more women in a room if these women do not feel free to express their opinions. The certification process highlights areas of opportunity in creating workplaces that harness everyone’s talent.14

Creating Products and Services

In some ways, businesses are adept at creating products and services for women and girls. Consider the huge businesses devoted to women’s apparel, beauty products, and feminine hygiene. But thinking about providing products and services for women and girls risks being translated into “sell more stuff to women.”

The approach of the gender lens investing movement is different. The goal is to create opportunities and reduce risks by designing products and services (and their value chains) that empower women and girls and improve their lives. This means changing the design process from designing for women to designing with women. It is not about taking products and making them pink. Successes in producing clean cookstoves, in reducing infant mortality, in improving feminine hygiene, and in other areas come from collaborative innovation.

Companies incur two costs if they don’t think about gender as they design their products and services: The first is missed market opportunities and the second is the reputational risk that could come from badly designed products. Some companies are now taking up this challenge. For example, automobile companies have recently begun to test the safety of their cars with female-size crash test dummies in the driver’s seat. And some drug companies are beginning to think of the problems and missed opportunities of not adequately testing pharmaceuticals on women. (Clinical studies are disproportionaly based on men.15)

The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is demonstrating the power of investing in products for women. Clean cookstoves and fuels can improve health outcomes related to emphysema, cataracts, and heart disease as well as alleviate economic burdens that disproportionately fall on women and girls. The organization now has more than 1,000 partners working to build a global market for clean cookstoves and fuels. What they have found, however, is that adoption of the new cookstoves has been spotty. Some of the challenge lies in designs that do not fit the needs of the women: They are engineering solutions from companies mainly in developed economies delivering products to people in resource-poor environments.

To get people to adopt the new cookstoves, the alliance has gone beyond thinking of women as only the users of the products. They have used gender analysis to identify a whole series of best practices, from product design (observe women cooking and involve women in the design esthetics), to production (give women the opportunity to manufacture components), to financing (support financial institutions in lending to women and consider rent-to-own or micro-consignment strategies), to distribution (use gender-informed marketing messages and offer trial periods to female distributors).16

“Previously, we found that cooking energy companies didn’t fully understand how a gender-informed approach could help their bottom line. Gender requirements were generally donor-driven and not seen as something that could improve their effectiveness,” says Corinne Hart, director of Gender for the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. “But now they are seeing how using a gender lens can enhance their business model and increase sales and adoption of their products and services.”

Lessons Learned

Several lessons can be drawn from these three different approaches that will help investors use a gender lens to guide their decisions. The first is that systems matter. For investors, it is easy to focus on the specific investments without thinking of the systems in which they are embedded. For example, when microfinance works for women, it is not just because of the loans, but also because of the entire set of principles and programs that have been created to support women entrepreneurs. When the loan comes with technical assistance, a commitment by the women to have a different relationship with their husbands, and a loan compact that includes support groups, results improve. Similarly, encouraging women entrepreneurs anywhere in the world without confronting the biases in the entire funding system will not increase the number of women-owned businesses. Using a gender lens is about changing processes, not simply working within them.

The second lesson to be learned about gender lens investing is that metrics are important for creating incentives and for tracking progress, but our current methods are often not sophisticated enough to measure all that is important. Counting the number of women—on corporate boards of directors, in hedge funds—is a good start, but it is not enough. Asking about metrics, collecting data, and reporting the results trigger dialogue and actions to reduce inequities and uncover opportunities, but creating metrics that can reveal systemic issues is hard. As University of Oxford professor Linda Scott and her colleagues show in their three-year field study of Avon resellers in South Africa, we cannot understand the impact of women’s entrepreneurship until we define success according to the criteria of the women themselves.17 There, key outcomes not often measured in studies of microfinance were changes in self-perception, improvements in self-confidence, and development of expertise that the women experienced.


The third lesson for gender lens investing is that women must be at the table in all of these conversations, and in adequate numbers. As Christine Lagarde, then France’s Finance Minister, famously said, “If Lehman Brothers had been ‘Lehman Sisters,’ today’s economic crisis clearly would look quite different.”18 A token woman on a panel or on a leadership team does not make for effective representation. (In fact, research shows that tokenism can often be worse.19) This cannot be a women-only conversation. We are all implicated in the current gendered systems of capital allocation, and the only way out is for everyone to see the world through gender lenses.

Moving into the Mainstream

The important question we must now answer is how to move gender lens investing from the fringe to the center of the discussion. The sustainability movement took years to be taken seriously but has now entered the mainstream with thematic investment funds attracting assets and corporations like Wal-Mart Stores producing sustainability reports and being asked by their shareholders to address environmental, social, and governmental issues. As we reflect on what it will take to build the field, we see three immediate barriers as well as some openings that make us optimistic.

First, there are not enough investment vehicles that leverage a gender lens. One fix for this deficiency is for investors to demand access to these types of investments. This can be a virtuous or vicious cycle: Without demand, supply will be suppressed, but greater demand can instigate innovation. A quicker fix is for investment managers to add gender metrics to their existing analyses.

Second, we lack the data needed to design smart investments. We have to get to the point where gender-disaggregated data is a de rigueur consideration when making investments. And we need different kinds of data that support gender analyses (such as the surveys that EDGE is now doing). Some of these data should include case studies that can show how investing with a gender lens can be done. More data will create both the “proof points” to justify action and the “signposts” for those who want to act.

Third, concurrent with the development of data, the field needs to develop expertise in bridging the two domains of gender and finance. Investors and financial institutions need skills in doing a gender analysis. Women’s empowerment organizations would benefit from expertise in using finance as a tool in the toolkit. Today, few people can speak both languages, and few organizations know how to make the connections. Building the field will be essentially about finding ways to build these forms of expertise.

The financial crisis from which we are just emerging has caused many people to question the foundations of the existing system. Moments of crisis can create opportunities for systems change. Can a gender lens help us move forward from the current upheaval in financial markets and the broader economic crisis? Given the increasing attention to women and the economy, can a gender lens on investing offer tangible solutions for making progress?

This content represents the thoughts of the authors and does not necessarily represent the position of Bank of America or U.S. Trust. Always consult with your independent attorney, tax advisor, investment manager, and insurance agent for final recommendations and before changing or implementing any financial, tax, or estate planning strategy. U.S. Trust operates through Bank of America, N.A., and other subsidiaries of Bank of America Corporation. Bank of America, N.A., member FDIC. Investment products are not FDIC insured, are not bank guaranteed, and may lose value.


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Filed Under: Human capital, Value Chains


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